Across the centuries, Jewish hermeneutists — interpreters of the holy texts — have had radically different agendas: illuminating and whitewashing, edifying and indoctrinating. A poetic impulse, if not outright poetry, was occasionally part of the picture, too. And how could it not? Dealing with poetic texts of our national and religious mythos, imaginative responses only seemed natural.
Laurie Patton’s recent collection “Angel’s Task: Poems in Biblical Time” presents poems, named for and arranged by the weekly Torah portion. Today we’re featuring two works from this wonderful collection.
“Shemot” is a riff, a meditation on the theme of names and naming, that builds up, like a musical composition, resulting in a mighty metaphysical insight. “Vayechi,” referring to last week’s parsha, is more in the tradition of the dvar Torah — a miniature hermeneutic sermon. Connecting a personal story with the textual insight, it is a profound psychological commentary of the biblical figure of Joseph, and the bearing this figure has on the national Jewish consciousness.
“Shemot” was originally published as “Drawn Out” in Studio One, St. John’s University Journal of the Arts.